Chris­tians and Mus­lims stand­ing to­gether

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FAITH - JOHN LONGHURST

‘WILL this make the news?” That’s what a Mus­lim friend asked me two months ago af­ter Mus­lims in Egypt formed hu­man shields out­side churches on Christ­mas Eve. They did it to pro­tect Chris­tians in that coun­try from ter­ror at­tacks, like the bomb­ing in Alexan­dria on Jan. 1.

As it turns out, it did make the news at some me­dia out­lets. You had to look hard to find it, though. The only men­tion in Win­nipeg me­dia, it seems, was in a col­umn by Tom Ford in this news­pa­per. He added that the in­ci­dent “was lit­tle re­ported.”

A lit­tle over a month later, Chris­tians in that coun­try re­cip­ro­cated by join­ing hands to form a pro­tec­tive cor­don around Mus­lims as they knelt for Fri­day prayers in Tahir Square. Two days later, Mus­lims re­turned the favour, sur­round­ing Chris­tians in the square as they cel­e­brated mass.

As with the story of Mus­lims pro­tect­ing Chris­tians, Chris­tians pro­tect­ing Mus­lims didn’t get much me­dia at­ten­tion.

Which is strange, con­sid­er­ing how one of the ma­jor sto­ry­lines since 9/11 is in­creas­ing ten­sion be­tween Mus­lims and the so-called Chris­tian West. You’d think the me­dia would be all over any story show­ing peo­ple from the two groups work­ing to­gether. Ap­par­ently, that’s not the case.

In fact, the role of re­li­gion as a whole in the protests in Egypt, Tu­nisia and other coun­tries seems to merit just a glance. But just as with the fall of an­other tyran­ni­cal po­lit­i­cal sys­tem — East Ger­many — re­li­gion seems to play­ing an im­por­tant part.

In the case of East Ger­many, it was the church that pro­vided “the only free space,” says Chris­tian Fuhrer, pas­tor of St. Niko­lai Evan­gel­i­cal Lutheran Church in Leipzig.

“Ev­ery­thing that could not be dis­cussed in pub­lic could be dis­cussed in church, and in this way the church rep­re­sented a unique spir­i­tual and phys­i­cal space in which peo­ple were free,” he says.

In the early 1980s, Fuhrer be­gan hold­ing weekly prayers for peace. At­ten­dance was sparse at first, but grew as the as the Soviet Union be­gan open­ing to the West.

The prayer ser­vice “was some­thing very spe­cial,” he says. “Here a crit­i­cal mass grew un­der the roof of the church — young peo­ple, Chris­tians and non-Chris­tians.”

In Oc­to­ber 1989, when the gov­ern­ment be­gan to crack down on protest, at­ten­dance at the prayer meet­ings swelled. One night, af­ter it fin­ished, 70,000 peo­ple marched through the city as armed sol­diers looked on — do­ing noth­ing. A month later, the wall be­tween East and West Ber­lin came down.

“If any event ever mer­ited the de­scrip­tion of ‘mir­a­cle’ that was it,” Fuhrer says. “A revo­lu­tion that suc­ceeded, a revo­lu­tion that grew out of the church.”

A prayer meet­ing in a church didn’t bring down the East Ger­man gov­ern­ment. But it gave op­po­nents of the regime a place to ex­press their frus­tra­tion, and their hopes for change. The same thing ap­pears to have oc­curred in the Mid­dle East. Just like in East Ger­many, re­li­gious gath­er­ings in those coun­tries were among the few places where peo­ple could gather to ex­press their frus­tra­tion with their gov­ern­ments.

“Most of these re­pres­sive gov­ern­ments squashed any kind of po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion,” says Kathy Hawk, a Mid­dle East ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Alabama in Huntsville. “It was only through the mosques that peo­ple could kind of co­a­lesce.”

An added re­li­gious di­men­sion to the story in Egypt is how the at­tack against Chris­tians in Alexan­dria — the same one that prompted Mus­lims to pro­tect Chris­tians at­tend­ing church later that month — might have pro­vided one spark that helped lead to the regime’s fall.

Ac­cord­ing to Car­di­nal An­to­nios Naguib, the Cop­tic Catholic Pa­tri­arch of Alexan­dria, se­cu­rity forces in that coun­try of­ten used at­tacks on Chris­tians by rad­i­cal Mus­lims as a pre­text to clamp down on op­po­si­tion move­ments.

“This has given weight to the hy­poth­e­sis, in cir­cu­la­tion par­tic­u­larly among Chris­tians, that the min­is­ter of the in­te­rior had planned the mas­sacre of Alexan­dria to jus­tify a strength­en­ing of po­lice con­trols,” he is quoted as say­ing in the Na­tional Catholic Re­porter.

If that’s the case, it back­fired spec­tac­u­larly — rather than cow­ing the pop­u­lace, it sparked the op­po­site re­ac­tion, and united Chris­tians and Mus­lims against the regime.

Where all of this is go­ing, and what role re­li­gion will play in Egypt’s fu­ture, or the fu­ture of the other Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries, is any­one’s guess. Only the most Pollyan­ish would sug­gest it is the dawn of a new day of peace and sun­shine be­tween Chris­tians and Mus­lims. There is po­ten­tial dan­ger from rad­i­cal re­li­gious move­ments. There will be tough times ahead, with nu­mer­ous ad­vances and set­backs.

As peo­ple of faith in this coun­try, one thing we can do is pray for peo­ple in the Mid­dle East. Psalm 122: 6-8 says: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May they pros­per who love you.”

To that I would add: Let’s also pray that peace will come to Cairo, Tripoli, Tu­nis, Tehran and ev­ery other ma­jor Mid­dle East­ern city and coun­try dur­ing these ex­cit­ing, but un­cer­tain, times.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.